2 Gloved Hands, One Incredible Symbolic Act Of Courage, Happy Birthday Tommie Smith
Before Michael Jackson danced across the stage with his sequined gloves and made musical history with his dynamic moves. Two gloves moved Black America in the 1968 Mexico City World Olympic Games. I remember that night as if it yesterday so vivid was the memory. This was long before cable access to television changed the how we viewed American culture. There were simply 3 major network stations and those network stations commanded the attention of viewers throughout this country. NBC controlled the Olympic Games but ABC controlled the Wide World of Sports. America in 1968 was in utter chaos the country was reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, and Robert F. Kennedy on June 6. The Democratic Party National Convention was an onslaught on the streets of Chicago. The urban cities like the one I resided as a 14-year-old young black boy had been a blaze following Martin Luther King Jr. murder in the spring of that year.
The War in Vietnam had taken down the incumbent President's re-election bid and Martin Luther King's Jr. Poor People's Campaign Resurrection City in Washington DC was a muddy mess. The leading black figures of the day had met and were deciding whether on not to support a boycott of the Olympic Games. How could our communities suffering so much care to highlight any degree of patriotism when black rights were being trampled on all over this nation. Who can forget that epic photo of Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Lew Alcindor along with others meeting in 1967 in Cleveland rallying around equity in society for black athletes? This movement continued into 1968 and many, many athletes of color were demanding that their voices be heard. No black participation in the Olympic Games in 1968 was the beacon call. Well, it was a momentous time in our struggle for simple human and civil rights. We as a nation were just a few years past the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills of 1964 and 1965. The nation's schools were still segregated in many southern schools across this country. The economic conditions of many blacks in this nation were atrocious, to say the least. Injustice seemingly was everywhere and justice for blacks in this country was a distant dream far from reality. Who really cared about the 1968 Olympic Games?
Well, thank God that some people cared enough about the Games that blacks decided to compete; because had the boycott manifested itself in 1968. We would've never had the beauty of Lee Evans and John Carlos. These two young black sprinters shook up this country and uplifted black communities throughout this nation. Normally in the Olympic Games during this period of time, the USA dominated all the sprint events because the brothers and sisters of color were the gazelles and the fleet-footed Mercury's of the country. These Olympic Game were no different as the Americans did, in fact, dominant the medal boards in Mexico City. It wasn't the action on the tracks although Bob Beamon did, in fact, jump out of the stratosphere in setting the long jump record, and Bob Hines set a new world record in the men's 100 meters, Wimoma Tyrus became the first female sprinter to double up in the 100 meters back to back Olympic Games. It was the actions of John Carlos and Tommie Smith that shook the world when those two brothers took to the medal stand. After Tommie Smith ran a tremendous race and won the 200 meters and John Carlos finished third. No one anticipated what would happen next. Just as Stokley Carmichael took to the stage in Greenwood, Mississippi and proclaimed Black Power in 1966. Tommie and John spoke loudly without saying a word.
As the National Anthem played representing the symbol of USA patriotism and pride. Tommie lifted his right arm gloved in black and John Carlos lifted his left arm gloved in black and made a message that shook the fiber of these games completely. They stood in unison against the inequality that people of color face in this country. The simple gesture turned the world's attention to the treatment and conditions of Blacks in America. What it did for a 14-year-old black boy in Baltimore City was uplifted his spirit and belief in our ability as a people to effect change. I know for many young blacks in America before Micheal Jackson's sequined glove became famous. We in the black communities had the facsimile of Tommie and John's gloves on our hands that summer. Yes, single black gloves were in demand along with a pair a Ray Bans. We all wanted to be like Tommie and John. They faced incredible forces that demanded some apologetic action for ruining the Olympic Games but personally for me they made the Games. Happy Birthday Tommie Smith and may you celebrate many more birthdays.